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PAX AUS 2014 – Everything We Learned @ The Bioware Panel
With the exception of perhaps the delightfully popular ‘Women in Games’ panel, the PAX AUS 2014 Bioware panel was perhaps one of the weekend’s most successful ones. The popular storytellers and games development house were at the show to both give fans both some hands-on time with the released Dragon Age: Inquisition, and to give them insight into how the respected RPG powerhouse goes about striking their famed balance between mechanics and storytelling.
“Our storytelling is something that we’re trying to evolve and push to the next generation”
Right from the get-go, lead designer Mike Laidlaw was upfront about the challenges the Bioware team faced with Dragon Age: Inquisition. Between the new engine, new hardware and new open-world ambitions, Bioware had their work cut out for them – with the team calling it as their most challenging title to date.
The big draw here comes with Inquisition’s open world. It’s the first time the Bioware team are approaching storytelling on such an scale and the panel was quick to compare this big step forward for storytelling to their last. According to them, “the studio’s push to include player voice….was a quantum shift in the way we tell stories” and while the addition of an open world design is a more systemic one, it’s still one that required “a design shift in how we approached it”.
Inquisition is a chance for Bioware to “give players bigger areas to explore” and challenge themselves as both designers and storytellers. This process was one that required “constant reiteration” as the design team worked with the game’s writers to ensure that the new mechanics that Inquisition is bringing to the series came hand-in-hand with the same level of quality-storytelling past games have had.
“Storytelling is now revolving around people rather than systems”
During the Q&A towards the end of the panel, one of the big questions asked of Laidlaw and the team was one concerned their own gaming tastes. When asked what other games the team felt that Bioware could learn from, the answers were as varied as they were well-received by the audience in the room. One developer commended the fluid storytelling of Journey saying “I can tell the story of that game and I guarantee you’ll disagree with me” while another brought attention to Ubisoft’s recent Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Gone Home also merited a mention with one member of the Inquisition team labelling it “a masterpiece of storytelling”. Laidlaw’s own recommendations from a more niche source – the visual novels Analogue: A Hate Story and Hate Plus.
The last big question of the panel’s somewhat-curtailed Q&A was an interesting one for all in the room – not to mention one with a fun answer. When asked if Bioware were worried about the AAA RPG market shrinking, he confidentially replied, “I’ll be more worried about the future of role playing when every other genre stops stealing our mechanics”. He went on to elaborate clarifying “that’s not a bad thing” and that while the number of mainstream dedicated AAA RPG developers can be counted on one hand, there’s been a huge rise in output from the indie gaming side of things.
You can check out the full panel below: